This is a letter I wrote to a colleague.
Thanks for your letter. I’m sorry not to have been able to discuss inhibition, or much else, the two times I’ve visited; but I don’t think even if the entire morning was given over to talking it would do much more than scratch the surface.
I’ve been busy recently which explains why I haven’t got around to writing. When your letter arrived I jotted down a few points which I thought were relevant and I’ll try and explain them.
Incidentally, although I agree we don’t have to convince each other, there’s no doubt Alexander meant something pretty specific by ‘inhibition’. If he was around to award people marks out of ten for their understanding of the term I think there would be a low pass rate; so it’s as well to at least try and explain our different views.
It seems to me when you say inhibition is "primarily a mental activity" you are missing the point. Inhibition isn’t the leading up to or even the act of reaching a decision not to proceed in a certain way, but its implementation. In itself, it is no more mental than kicking a football.
You also say you confine your inhibition to the sending of "preventative messages" and that you don’t rely on kinesthetic feedback to initiate this because of worries over inaccurate feedback. I think you’re confusing inhibition with direction here. It is hardly enough merely ‘wishing’ or ‘desiring’ to stop something we are already doing.
The "manner of reaction to a stimulus" obviously means something very different to both of us. For me, it encompasses all resulting thought and action, including "the end", "the idea of the end", "the manner of use in achieving the end" and particularly "the conception of the manner of use in achieving the end". It doesn’t matter whether we are acting consciously or unconsciously, the net result will be made up of exactly the same components: a mental process with inescapable physical consequences that together form our ‘manner of reaction’.
When we inhibit, we set out to change something physical through an alteration in a mental state that is dominated by our intention to achieve a particular end. Let’s take as an example the phone ringing. We hear this – physically – and we want – mentally – to answer it; we decide – mentally – to move and begin heading – physically – towards the phone. All this happens unconsciously and in the blink of an eye. How do we inhibit?
The first step is to become conscious of our unconscious intention. To do this we need to become aware of the messages we are sending; these will inevitably be to gain our end while shortening and narrowing. It is important to understand that in order to become mentally aware of such messages – to actually recognise, rather than guess, we are sending them – we need to become kinesthetically aware of their consequences.
The second step involves stopping sending these messages. Just as it is only possible to know they exist by becoming aware of their effect, so it is impossible to stop sending them without receiving confirmation we have done so. The desire or wish to stop sending the messages, the hope that we have stopped them, is not enough.
Any attempt to proceed without referring to our kinesthetic sense is based on the common but I think mistaken idea that – as you express it – we should "inhibit any immediate reaction to kinesthetic feedback". (I assume you’re talking here about conscious kinesthetic feedback, experienced by someone who is neither having a formal lesson nor working alone with a mirror.) As I understand this, we should not be inhibiting whatever unconscious intererence we become aware of so much as any conscious desire to stop it. In other words, we should inhibit inhibition!
Can it really be the case, though, that having once become conscious, we should say ‘no’ to stopping what we sense ourselves doing wrong, and instead give ‘preventative directions’ in the hope they will nullify messages we are unwilling to recognise the effects of anyway?
The only too likely result is that our unconscious intention to shorten and narrow, which we have raised to consciousness but decided to ignore all physical signs of, will remain unchanged, because we will have little option but to also ignore its mental side – the two being indistinguishable; and all we will have achieved is a refusal to face up to misuse in the name of inhibition while paying lip-service to the notion of doing so by giving directions.
The major problem is one of recognition. It is easy to recognise poor use, kinesthetically; but how do we recognise the thoughts that cause it, especially in isolation? What, after all, are the distinguishing characteristics of messages to shorten and narrow, other than the effect they have on us? How can we withhold, and know we have withheld, consent for their despatch except through the realisation – inevitably kinesthetically perceived – of their non-arrival? Besides, what thoughts could we inhibit, if not those producing the results we didn’t trust? What other thoughts would we even know we were having?
Unconscious messages, raised to consciousness, neither become verbalised, nor – so far as they pertain to our use – recognisable in any way except through the kinesthetic sense. We can say ‘neck free’, or think about ‘lengthening’; but unless we let go, to the degree our level of learning allows, of whatever is preventing better use from happening, we will achieve little.
This ‘letting go’ isn’t a physical action. It is caused by, and remains dependant on, the mental decision to stop ‘holding on’. We rely on our kinesthetic sense to know, at any one time, whether and how much we need to do this.
You say: "Every action is preceded by a thought and every thought is followed by a corresponding action. In this sense the two are inseparable and every action is psycho-physical in nature. However, the part of this psycho-physical action which we are able to change is the thought and we can only to this by replacing it with another thought."
I don’t disagree; but I think it would be no easier to change the thought associated with poor use without acknowledging it kinesthetically than to bring about a change in that use without refering to the thoughts that caused it. However much we may think we recognise our unconscious intention to shorten and narrow, without accepting the validity of our kinesthetic experience of this, it cannot be the case. After all, why should we expect our cerebral acuity to be any more reliable than our sensory appreciation?
Whatever stage we are at in learning the Technique, we should assume our awareness of mental messages concerning use will exactly mirror our appreciation of their physical effect. It couldn’t be otherwise. This means that without kinesthetic aacceptance of what we are doing, we will be no nearer ‘guiding or controlling’ our actions than if we were functioning unconsciously.
As for "conscious guidance and control being a plane to be reached rather than a method of reaching it", I see this in simple terms. You say that "greater association with the body is achieved as the result of inhibition and direction", but I think of it as integral to the process. To my mind, "conscious guidance and control" depends on association with the body; and rather than being a "method of reaching" this, the dual procedure of inhibition and direction is itself "the plane to be reached".
This is one of the reasons I emphasise the importance of association with the kinesthetic sense. I have never considered the Technique a procedure that leads to a different state of being. In proper application, it is that state. If we are successfully inhibiting and directing, at any level of expertise, we are already ‘on the plane’. If we live in hope of reaching it, through the repetition of a particular procedure, we have got hold of the wrong end of the stick.
Writing this note has certainly clarified one thing for me. I never properly realised how pivotal the kinesthetic sense was to our becoming conscious of previously unconscious messages sent from mind to body concerning use: how unintelligible, without reference to that sense, those messages would remain.
I look forward to hearing from you, trying to persuade me otherwise.
I’ve just re-read your letter and after puzzling for a moment over your conclusion that it is "the manner of (your) reaction which is the object of inhibition and not the reaction itself", found myself wanting to ask you how you distinguish between the two. How do you recognise what your manner of reaction is? What are its distinguishing characteristics? What makes it stand out from the maelstrom of activity going on when the phone rings and you begin to answer it?